A Survivor's Journey to an Austrian Town
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A powerful and unusually eloquent memoir of a prominent Austrian Holocaust survivor invited back to face and forgive old ghosts and demons. Weiss is a prominent Israeli immunologist and author of books on Jewish law and philosophy, who made traumatic returns to the eastern Europe that he fled as an 11-year-old boy. After serving as a young interrogator for the American army after the war, Weiss’s first adult return was as a biomedical speaker at a scientific conference. But this account centers on his 1995 return to his Austrian hometown of Wiener Neustadt. Weiss was particularly wanted by the Ichthys mission of independent Christians of the town because his father had been the chief rabbi. This mission, and its major project, “A Week of Return,” was aimed at reconciliation with the town’s surviving Jewish exiles. This church breaks from normative theology and believes that God “will not illuminate the Christian world until amends are made to his chosen people.” Much of the memoir’s power and drama revolve around Weiss’s reluctant decision to return and address the children of the people who were so violently anti-Jewish. Along the way, Weiss presents a concise summary of the seven centuries of Jewish history in Austria, leading to his family background, and how they escaped the Nazis and got to New York. On the road, he accepted an invitation to confer with specialists in Israel, and this Berkeley radical had “the plain, overwhelming knowledge of being home.” Living in Israel since 1966, Weiss, with his son and grandson, is able to return to his hometown’s only surviving Jewish site—a row of tombstones now embedded in the town wall—and to give his life and the Ichthys community some closure. An intelligent and profound memoir. (25 b&w photos, 1 map)

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-253-33584-1
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Indiana Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1999